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Food and fertility are linked

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

FOR some, conceiving and raising a child is second nature, while for others, the journey to becoming parents is difficult and painful.

According to obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Robyn Khemlani, couples can increase their chances of getting pregnant by practising proper nutrition before trying to conceive, and working towards a healthy pre-pregnancy weight.

“For both men and women, food and fertility are linked. Sticking to a balanced diet and working towards a healthy body weight pre-pregnancy will boost your chances of a healthy baby. The fact is, if your body is in a healthy state, you're more likely to conceive and be able to provide your growing foetus with all the essential nutrients that it will need,” Dr Khemlani told Baby Steps.

She explained that it is important for couples to understand that pre-pregnancy nutrition is not only for women. She said, unfortunately, due to misconception, men have been excluded from the nutrition planning process, but research has shown that proper nutrition can also improve a man's fertility and increase his chances of impregnating his partner.

“The woman's body might be nurturing the child, but conception first needs to take place, and so men should pay attention to their diet. Certain vitamins and nutrients — such as zinc, oysters being very rich in this; vitamins C and E; and folic acid — are important for making healthy sperm,” Dr Khemlani advised.

She recommends that the woman's daily diet should include several servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and calcium-rich foods such as yoghurt, cheese, and milk. However, it should be a low-fat, high-fibre diet and she should limit her sugar intake and intake of fried foods.

“One of the most essential components of the pre-pregnancy diet for women as well, is folic acid — a vitamin of the B complex. It is crucial for forming healthy cells and it can also help prevent birth defects like spina bifida and anencephaly. Along with taking folic acid supplements, you can also increase this in your diet by eating green, leafy vegetables; oranges and strawberries; beans and nuts,” she said.

In the same way that there are important foods that you need to include or increase in the pre-pregnancy diet, there are others that you must avoid when trying to conceive, as well as when the baby is on board, to increase your chances of becoming pregnant and to increase the chances of your foetus developing without defects.

“Limiting coffee intake is one thing that pregnant women are encouraged to do. While the evidence of a link between caffeine and fertility isn't conclusive, it's best to be on the safe side and decrease your intake of caffeine if you are trying to get pregnant, since some research shows where it reduces fertility,” the obstetrician-gynaecologist advised.

She instructed women who are actively trying to conceive, to also avoid some fish that contain higher levels of mercury, such as Kingfish, Marlin, Swordfish, King mackerel, and shark. She said this is because high levels of mercury in the blood have been linked to fertility issues in both men and women.

Additionally, mercury can also harm the baby's developing brain and nervous system.

Your body weight can also significantly influence your chances of not only becoming pregnant, but it can affect the health of your pregnancy.

“If you are overweight prior to pregnancy, it would be best to try and lose some pounds, or gain a few if you are underweight. You want to be as close as possible to your recommended weight when you conceive, since being overweight or underweight can make it harder to get pregnant,” Dr Khemlani advised.

Being under or overweight may cause irregular menstrual cycles and ovulation, making it more difficult to conceive, she continued. If the woman does become pregnant, however, in the case of obese women, Dr Khemlani said that their chance of pregnancy and birth complications increases, while being underweight before conceiving increases your risk of having a baby with low birthweight.

— Penda Honeyghan